WHAT DOES A MEDICAL LABORATORY TECHNICIAN DO?

If you’re interested in health care, chances are you want to help people feel better…why else get into it right? But until a doctor can figure out what’s going on, they can’t help their patient. That’s where a medical & clinical laboratory technician comes in.

medical-lab-tech-examining-test-tubes

Credit: shutterstock.com/science photo

A Medical Laboratory Technician (MLT), also referred to as a medical lab tech, or clinical laboratory technician, can work in diagnostic labs, doctor’s offices and hospitals. MLTs run tests on blood and bodily fluid that help give doctors answers; answers that can help doctors diagnose what’s wrong before starting a treatment plan.

Lab tests aren’t always about helping get a diagnosis though. Sometimes medical lab techs will be testing drug levels in a patient’s blood – why? To see how they’re responding to a specific drug or treatment.

Medical Lab Technician Job Duties & Responsibilities

  • Conduct tests that help doctors detect, diagnose and treat illness and disease
  • Examine and analyze bodily fluids
  • Draw blood samples for testing
  • Assess chemical make-up of urine
  • Match blood types for transfusions
  • Test for drug levels in blood

Medical Lab Technician vs Technologist – Is There a Difference?

Yes there is. It’s confusing right? Why are the job titles so similar? Sometimes technologists are referred to as medical laboratory scientists which makes the ‘who’s who’ much clearer. Although medical laboratory technicians and medical laboratory technologists both carry out tests that doctors order, technologists often do more complex tests and lab procedures. That’s one reason why a technologist needs two more years of school than a technician! Most of the time technicians do more of the daily, usually automated tests, while medical lab technologists do more detailed manual tests and prepare specimens.

The other difference is an important one to know – if you become a medical laboratory technician your boss may be a medical laboratory technologist! Medical lab techs are often supervised by a technologist.[1]

Where Do Medical Lab Technicians Work?

Hospitals; state, local, and private 44%
Medical and diagnostic laboratories 19%
Offices of physicians 12%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 5%

(Above table data source)

Many medical laboratory technicians work in hospitals, while some clock in at independent medical and diagnostic labs, or doctors’ offices, or at colleges and universities. Many labs are open 24/7, so it’s not unusual for medical laboratory technicians to work evenings, weekends, or even overnight shifts.

What Skills & Qualities Should a Lab Technician Have?

We all know friends who sweat the small stuff right? You know who I’m talking about – you’re thinking about someone right now aren’t you? Maybe it’s you…#busted! Do you consider yourself a bit of a science geek? That’s the kind of person who could enjoy a successful career in medical laboratory technology.

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Credit: shutterstock.com/Avesun

No doubt it can be a demanding job with a lot of time on your feet, and sometimes you may have to move patients to take samples, so you need to have stamina!  MLTs can’t be queasy either, they’re looking at bodily fluids and blood for testing all day.

They can’t be scared of needles either, because sometimes they might be the ones drawing blood for testing. Have you ever had to pee in a cup at the doctor’s office? Chances are, it was a medical lab tech who tested your urine behind the scenes!

You see why MLTs are vital right? Why they have to be all about the details? This stuff is too important.

How to Become a Medical Lab Tech – Education & Training

Doing lab tests can be pretty intense so medical lab techs need an associate degree from a Medical Laboratory Technician program[2] like the one at Carrington College, which can take about two years[3] to complete. To become a medical laboratory technologist, the more senior job we talked about, you typically need a four year bachelor’s degree.

medical-lab-tech-working

Credit: shutterstock.com/A and N photography

If you’re still in high school thinking about a future as a medical lab tech, take classes like math, chemistry and biology – they can give you some basic skills that could be helpful when studying for your associate degree.

Do I Need a License to be an MLT?

There’s no easy answer to this one! Some states, such as California and Nevada, require medical lab techs to be licensed[4], while others, such as Arizona, don’t. Check out The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science for details on the states that require MLTs to have a license.

Certification isn’t necessary (except in some states where you need a license) but you may find your résumé gets more ‘likes’ if you’ve got a general certification tucked in there, or a specialty certification such as cytotechnology or medical biology. Anything positive that sets you apart is good, right? #MLTstar

So What Are You Waiting For?

Interested in this career? You can read more about this field on these websites or talk with us!


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm (visited October 07, 2016).

[2] Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rate of students who attended this program can be found at carrington.edu/cc/mlt

[3] Not including breaks. Program length by weeks and admission requirements can be found here in the academic catalog.

[4] Carrington College prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

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